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Trees Are Crops, Too--Even in a Pasture / November 25, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Horticulturist evaluates growth of a Chinese chestnut seedling.

Trees Are Crops, Too--Even in a Pasture

By Don Comis
November 25, 1998

Trees can shelter livestock--as well as farmsteads--from winter's cold as well as summer's heat. But ... 1,200 trees in a pasture?

That's how many black locust trees Charles M. Feldhake is growing in a West Virginia pasture. The Agricultural Research Service soil scientist planted the trees in rows about 30 feet apart in a 5-acre watershed where 25 sheep graze. Another 25 sheep graze an adjacent, treeless watershed.

Feldhake and horticulturist Carol M. Schumann want to find out whether the trees can catch excess nitrogen from livestock urine and manure in subsoil, before it reaches groundwater. The researchers are at ARS' Appalachian Soil and Water Conservation Research Laboratory, Beckley, W.Va.

Feldhake and Schumann are interested in other benefits of "agroforestry," the term for growing trees and shrubs on farms. Locust trees, for example, can be sold for firewood or fenceposts. The trees’ flowers provide nectar for honey-making bees.

The scientists are also testing black walnut, honey locust and sea buckthorn on pastures. European farmers grow sea buckthorn, a shrub, for its nutritious, tasty berries.

This past winter, the scientists opened up a forest strip and planted red oaks along with faster-growing trees and shrubs, including white pine, Chinese chestnut, pawpaw, hazelnut, blueberries and raspberries. They want to find out if the shorter-term plantings can yield marketable products without negative effects on the red oaks that would be selectively cut for high-value veneer.

In addition to the research goals, the scientists hope to demonstrate to local farmers that perennial woody species make sense as Appalachian crops.

An article on this agroforestry research appears in the November issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov98/silvio1198.htm

ARS is the chief scientific wing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Charles M. Feldhake and Carol M. Schumann, ARS Appalachian Soil and Water Conservation Research Laboratory, Beckley, W.Va., phone (304) 252-6426, fax (304) 256-2921, feldhake@asrr.arsusda.gov and schumann@asrr.arsusda.gov

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